Wonderful news: We have half as many homeless and displaced kids now as we did a year ago.
The latest figures from the Payson Unified School District still show a daunting number of kids living chaotic and unsupported lives — but the dramatic drop represents some of the best news we’ve had in Rim Country in years.
Granted, this community still faces a huge challenge in providing support to the 313 youngsters living on friends’ couches, camping out with shattered families or seeking refuge in the homes of other relatives.
Last year, an astonishing 25 percent of Payson students qualified as “homeless or displaced.” This year, that number dropped to a still alarming 13 percent.
We hope you took note of our front-page story hailing that heartening trend. We hope that you also made a note of the contact numbers for the Payson Assisting Displaced Students organization. This marvelous group of great-hearted citizens needs all the help it can get assisting those 313 students. They find temporary homes, help families find housing, provide students without family support some basic necessities — anything they can do to make sure these precious and vulnerable children finish school.
Studies of homeless and displaced children demonstrate what formidable odds they face if they can’t get the help they need. Those studies have shown strikingly higher rates of hunger, health problems, developmental delays, social and psychological problems and other impacts.
Make no mistake, this society will pay a heavy price if we ignore the needs of our children. Certainly, parents must bear the chief responsibility. But when parents fail — whether it’s a result of job loss and poverty or their own problems and choices — the children will pay the price.
Bear in mind, a daunting 70 percent of the students in the Payson school district come from families that qualify for free or reduced lunches as a result of family income. Studies show poverty has a profound impact on schooling.
So we applaud PADS for the marvelous job it has done in meeting the needs of our children — and Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin for bolstering that effort at a crucial moment. We hope our beloved readers will do as they have always done to help out. We know they will. As PUSD Superintendent Ron Hitchcock observed, Payson’s the most generous and supportive community he’s ever seen.
And that’s wonderful news.